Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sunday Top 10 - Draft Players to Watch

Today's Top 10 looks at some under the radar draft eligible players to watch as we inch closer to the half way point of the 2011/2012 OHL season.

Last month, I released my Early Season Top 30 for the 2012 Draft. It's definitely safe to say that in just a month, that list has changed a lot. But you'll have to wait until the new Year for an abridged version (my midseason list).

Until then, the following 10 guys (actually 11, I'm cheating today) are starting to make a name for themselves. And none of them appeared on my early season top 30. Just a year ago, the likes of Ryan Sproul, Andrew Fritsch, and Alan Quine did not appear on my early season top 30...and all three were NHL draft picks (Sproul and Quine inside the first three rounds). So there's a great chance that a couple of these guys will end up being significant NHL draft picks.

Here's the list (in alphabetical order)...

Joseph Blandisi - Owen Sound Attack
An OHL rookie, Blandisi earned his spot on the Attack roster this season by showcasing a work ethic on the ice similar to that of some other great Attack forwards in recent years (Gemel Smith, Mike Halmo, Andrew Shaw, etc). He's not the biggest guy, but he's always in on the play and works hard at both ends of the ice. Despite not getting a ton of offensive responsibility this season, he's currently 8th in scoring for the Attack. Instead of centering the third line, he's actually seen some time on the wing with Dan Catenacci and Jarrod Maidens of late, and he's got 2 goals and 2 assists in his last three games. He's definitely got some offensive ability and the hands to score in close. If he continues to get a chance on a top line, he could end up with a nice little season.

Brandon Devlin - Windsor Spitfires
How do the Spitfires keep stealing players from other teams? I never understood why the Colts weren't playing Devlin (or playing him at wing), because every time I saw him on defense, he looked strong. No co-incidence that since moving to Windsor he's blossoming into a solid two-way defenseman. I think he has the make up and skill set to develop into a very strong defensive first guy. He moves well and defends off the rush well. He's gaining more confidence in his physical game. And he can make a solid first pass out of his zone. As he gets more comfortable, it's definitely possible we see him taking more chances offensively. But with how many minutes he's playing in Windsor right now, he won't be under the radar for long.

Artur Gavrus - Owen Sound Attack
He's become "the guy Tie Domi's kid rocked," but that shouldn't be why we were talking about him. It's unfortunate for Gavrus that people are only talking about him now because of his injury, and not because of his offensive creativity and ability. For my money, Gavrus has scored the best goal in the league thus far, against the Spitfires in October. (FIND THE GOAL HERE, Watch the video labeled "Attack Beat Spits"). Offensively, he has it all. He's got speed to burn. He's not big, but he's certainly not afraid of the front of the net. And he has very good hands that allow him to make moves (like the above), that create time and space for himself and his linemates. Here's hoping he recovers from his concussion soon and returns to the ice in full form.

Max Iafrate - Kitchener Rangers
Iafrate has the toolbox to develop into a great stay at home defenseman. He's got the size, intensity and physical ability, and the skating ability to be a dominant defensive first guy. The problem, thus far, is that people compare him to his father. Thus far into his OHL career, Iafrate has looked like a guy without a real role. He's been trying to use his skating ability and shot to be an offensive guy, but it hadn't been working out. Since coming to Kitchener, Steve Spott has had Iafrate working on being a defensive first guy and there have been massive improvements to his game. He's looking more and more comfortable, and that confidence has translated to his offensive game of late. He's picking his spots better to turn on the offensive game and making better decisions with the puck in his own end. Now all he needs is a mullet.

Ben Johnson - Windsor Spitfires
What a difference a month can make for an OHL rookie. Johnson is proof that it can take a little while to get used to the speed and strength of this game. It took him 24 games to score his first OHL goal, but since he's got 4 goals and 4 assists in his last 5 games. He's got a ton of speed to burn and is starting to gain the confidence to utilize it offensively, as opposed to just being a forechecker. Johnson is also a complete player who thrives on the physical game. He's developed some massive chemistry with Alex Khokhlachev in the past two weeks, so look for him to continue to put up points.

Kristoff Kontos - Sudbury Wolves
Another player with strong NHL bloodlines (son of former Ranger and King, Chris Kontos), has been playing well with the Sudbury Wolves this year. A late 1993, Kontos' problem has been consistency. He started well last year too, but then fizzled. This year, he had a terrific October (averaging a point per game). But now he's only got 2 goals in his last 11 games and has gone cold again. His offensive production is directly correlated to his determination away from the puck. He'll need to find a way to get things back on track offensively and become more of a consistent front of the net presence, using his size to put points on the board.

Zack Leslie - Guelph Storm
A talented offensive defenseman, Leslie has slowly established his place on Guelph's blueline. He's now playing a top four role and seeing time with both Matt Finn and Andrey Pedan on the powerplay. He's also improving his defensive game to the point where he's seeing some penalty kill time. He skates well, has some size and can move the puck. All things NHL teams love in their blueliners. The key will be confidence in rushing the puck and taking some chances, without sacrificing the work he's put in to improve play in his own end. He has six points in November and should continue to put up some points so long as he sees powerplay time.

Eric Locke - Barrie Colts
It's been a tough season for the speedy Colt's winger. After such a promising year last year, which saw him put up over 50 points between Windsor and Barrie and play a key role for Canada at the Under 18's, Locke has been injury riddled this season. He started the year on the shelf with a concussion. Then returned, scored two goals, and injured his knee. He's only recently returned again, hopefully for good this time. Since returning from the knee injury, he's got only one assist in three games, but he's seeing a lot of ice time. With Barrie's strong supporting cast, it's only a matter of time until Locke starts scoring again. The question surrounding Locke is, just how much does his speed and skating ability offset his lack of size? I know Redline Report are HUGE fans of his (I think they have him in their first round), but I haven't seen anyone else with him nearly that high. Locke is definitely a wild card.

Warren Steele - Kingston Frontenacs
After starting the year so poorly, the Fronts are actually playing .500 hockey of late. Steele has been a huge part of Kingston's improvement. He's playing a ton of minutes as (essentially) an OHL rookie and looks like a four year vet on most nights. He seems to be one of those jack of all trades guys. Can do a little bit of everything and do it well. The key for Steele, to earn serious draft attention, will be to take his offensive game to the next level. He's not a big guy, so putting up some more points on the board will be key. Working under Todd Gill can't be a bad thing, for how many years he patrolled an NHL blueline.

Brady Vail - Windsor Spitfires
Vail has been a model of consistency this year. His tenacity with and without the puck is contagious, and whatever line he's on, always seems to be among the best on the night. He definitely profiles as a very strong two way winger at the next level and is starting to really increase his physical output as he gains more and more confidence. With guys like Vail, Clarke, Johnson, among others, playing so well, it's no coincidence that a Windsor rebuild isn't exactly the same as any other team's rebuild in this league.

Daniil Zharkov - Belleville Bulls
While the wait was substantial (after suffering a broken collarbone in the exhibition season), Zharkov appears to have been worth the wait. He's been absolutely fantastic since joining the Bulls' lineup. He has developed instant chemistry with Brendan Gaunce on the team's first line and looks like an unstoppable force at times. Zharkov is the complete package. He has size, speed and skill and just oozes potential. If he continues to put up close to a point per game, and the Bulls continue to win, he might just start creeping up into consideration for the first round. He's right up there with Radek Faksa and Olli Maatta.


Unknown said...

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Anonymous said...

Ben Johnson has impressed me since pre-season with his speed, energym and intensity. I also agree with your observation on going to the net. He takes the body and gives it his all at all times, so it is likely a matter of changing his mind set.

Johnson is going to be steal in the draft and has the best potential of all Windsor draft eligible prospects. Ebert is really starting to leave a sour taste in many mouths and skill set doesn't always make up for attitude.